Throughout his administration, Gov. Peter Shumlin has focused on ensuring that the economy of Windham County, and that of Vermont as whole, continues to strengthen. With the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility after more than 40 years, the Shumlin Administration is also working hard to ameliorate the immediate impact to the plant's employees and to the region as a whole, while helping position Windham County for vibrancy in the coming decades.
Through the work of the Shumlin Administration in the regulatory process regarding Vermont Yankee's closure, Vermont has secured an unprecedented $10 million in funds for economic growth in Windham County. The funds will be paid by the plant's owners to the state in $2 million increments over five years.
At the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, we are now creating a process to distribute these funds fully for the benefit of economic development in this region. On July 9, Gov. Shumlin and I will be in Brattleboro and invite you to attend a luncheon hosted by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss this program and other economic development related issues.
The Windham County Economic Development Program is an incredible opportunity for the citizens of Windham County to band together for a brighter economic future. It is a chance to build off of the terrific work that the region did when it formulated a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Southeastern Vermont.
To create a program that is equitable, transparent and flexible, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development has proposed a process to disburse the money to Windham County that is designed to utilize both the region's economic development planning and the state's administrative capacity.
By using its existing systems and staff, the Agency will administer the funds at no cost to the program: 100 percent of the $10 million fund will go to projects that directly benefit the people of Windham County.
Over the past month, we have met with numerous individuals and organizations in the region and gathered great public comment on the process. We've modified the process to incorporate this feedback where possible.
As is to be expected when developing a new program, some questions and concerns remain. The process, program information and details are all posted on GoWindham.vermont.gov. We also encourage you to post your questions there.
To answer some questions that we have already received:
-- The overall goal of this funding is to replace the jobs being lost at Vermont Yankee. Funds will be targeted at activities that will result in job creation in Windham County.
-- The funds will be available for both grants to non-profit organizations and loans to for-profit businesses.
-- The proceeds from repaid loans would revolve in perpetuity to benefit economic development in Windham County.
-- There is no predetermined cap on the amount of grants versus loans.
-- Applications must be for a minimum $25,000 and a maximum of $2 million.
-- There will be one application form, and all applications will be submitted to one place.
-- All applications will be scored independently based on criteria that has been vetted through public review and comment, and reviewed by stakeholders in this region.
-- Some of the funding may be used for marketing, feasibility studies, and planning. We are likely to cap that amount annually to ensure most of the money is targeted to direct job creation activities.
One suggestion that has been raised is to use a portion of the $10 million fund to create a revolving loan fund for Windham County, which could be administered by the Vermont Economic Development Authority at no cost. Why at VEDA? Because it has robust infrastructure and expertise in place to review, underwrite and service loans. This avoids the region having to spend dollars on staffing up for such an operation and leaves more funding available to create jobs.
We are holding a public hearing on July 10 at 5:30 p.m. in the Selectboard meeting room at the Brattleboro town office to ask citizens how they would like to see such an RLF structured. What types of "tools" should the RLF have to be most useful in building a sustainable economy in Windham County? What type of risk should this fund take?
This is an exciting opportunity Gov. Shumlin and his team have secured for Windham County. It is a great way to accelerate the implementation of the Southeast Vermont CEDS to create sustainable, positive impacts for the region.
We look forward to the creative ways businesses and organizations will seek to put this funding to work for the short and long term benefit of this vital region.
Patricia Moulton is the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.